Disturbing Trends in Gaming

Steam-ValveI love it all. From text-based adventure games to grand strategy to puzzle to full-fledged RPGs. I cut my teeth on the ridiculously-hard 8-bit horrors of my youth, lost hundreds of dollars to the Arcade, marveled at the “golden age” of gaming’s ingenuity, was floored by the graphical power of modern platforms, and cheered at the sheer variety of ways that I can now enjoy the experiences, old and young, refined and rough, mobile and non, social and single player. Sifting through the generations that I’ve witnessed, however, I’m starting to see some emergent trends that I’m not very enthusiastic about in contrast to the bright future that video games seem to hold.

Publishers, big and small, have evolved some conniving ways to either con the gamer out of their money or to lower the bar of expectations which sends ripples of discontent throughout the industry. Some practices could be considered benign tumors while others are era-shaping decisions that will ultimately act as landmarks in gaming’s short history, forever molding its destination. I usually understand WHY developers do these things, but I feel a compulsion to point these trends out to anyone who would listen:

Games as Behavior-Altering Positive Feedback Cycles
I’ve seen this implemented in a cascade of different ways but anything that artificially limits your ability to play or use an ability in-game may be guilty of this. I heard that WOW had some similar design element in order to encourage their customers to PLAY LESS, but the motivation was to have their paying addicts get some much needed rest. Many modern games, wether it’s some lame form of RPG revamp like Zork Online or any random title off Facebook, will intentionally have shallow/rewarding gameplay that is intended to become as rote as feeding the fish and last just as long: 5 minutes a day, every day. Similarly, micro-transactions will kill you with papercuts. I don’t know who gets suckered by these charlatans but there is no game to be had. Flip a lightswitch at any hour of your choosing if you want an upgrade from this limited redundancy.


Because "Micro-Transactioned Grass Watcher" was too honest for a title.

I will never rip on the free-ness of a game. But the mentality of convincing people a game is free while constantly dangling the prospect that you are missing out during every minute of gameplay is ridiculous. The Old Republic simply wasn’t worth it for me to plop down hundreds of dollars in order to experience the story that is pretty much intrinsic to every other Bioware title. F2P? Sign me up. What I get is a barrage of cajoling messages that tell me I need to buy the Star Wars bucks or purchase the different content to fully enjoy the game. I totally understand why my experience is reduced and that in-game items are more expensive, but why do I also have to put up with a limit on chat frequency, no follower customization, a weekly cap on space battles, an inability to look up team member info, item inaccessability, and reduced movement speed? “As a Free Player, you don’t get resting bonuses.” Thanks, cantina. Thanks.

God damn it, with the sequels. Popular game is popular. Very little changes, some of which are improvements. I notice that the industry makes almost exactly 3 titles too many before dialing it back on these “hits”. A game a year? The only way to achieve that quota is if you steal judiciously from the previous and start working feverishly on the next title before the current one has gotten feedback. Imagine this: Rock Band or any of the Guitar Heros could have been a single game with downloadable album packs, maybe purchasable skins. Assassin’s Creed is all over the map, multi-platform even. While Call of Duty…. I’ll leave it there. Madden and Call of Duty, enough said. It’s one thing to fine-tune a game, to put a polishy veneer on a game mechanic, to achieve perfection for the title, but it’s crap to just clone your own stuff and push until it flops.

Call Of Duty COD Collection sohansurag

Their Call of Duty quilt is coming along nicely.

Similar to sequels, reboots deserve their own special level of hell. I’m looking at you Devil May Cry and Tomb Raider. It’s Scenario Time. Let’s say you own a flailing series. You’ve given up on perfecting whatever mechanics, elements, and story that you’ve made over the decades and you want to create a NEW game with a NEW character with SIMILAR mechanics. Does this equal a brand NEW franchise? Not by their logic! If you thrust a brand new character with a different backstory into a brand new environment, but KEEP THE NAME of one of the lead faces, it’s a reboot. Why the heft and clout of famous game companies couldn’t market these as brand new titles instead of throwing out everything the player learned about the characters throughout the years, why they opt to present total strangers in the guise of childhood friends is beyond me. That isn’t Dante’s hair and those aren’t Lara’s boobs.

Congratulations. You copied someone else’s game idea. And without combining facets in a meaningful/fun way? Bravo. No really, your strategic RPG is the best and it is better than when Atlus did it. A First Person Shooter set during a controversial war in human history? Pure gold. Yet another quasi-medieval hack and slash about a young boy with amnesia? Do these companies want a pat on the back or just money? It sucks that they choose to compete their crap with a higher budget game instead of spending less money on originality and a chance to put their company on the map. Derivative after derivative after derivative. I pity the rare plagiaristic developer who isn’t motivated by greed. It’s a sad state of affairs when the most creative medium of our generation can’t come up with a way to express a unique story or a unique mechanic or a unique environment to explore. You don’t have to go anime-style-all-out-balls-tripping creative, but come on folks, games literally have no conceptual boundaries.


EA has successfully trademarked fireplaces and human proportions.

Day 1 Patches
I’m all for a developer to support their game beyond what they initially invested in. And I understand that crunch-times are competitive with holidays, ambitious leaders, and other games being released with the same premise. But these Day 1 Patches are surely planned out in the Game Design Documents at this point. If the game isn’t ready, DON’T RELEASE IT. Don’t push your coders and artists beyond the point of breaking to make an impossible deadline. Trust me. Your fans will understand and they actually prefer for a game to have polish. Not only is it annoying to download a 30 minute update from the PSN, but you’re not going to catch all issues in that one patch. Skyrim is a case-in-point; although you get better and thorough reactions from your millions of players than your tens of play-testers, true, you are actively severing the trust in your fans and the faith that you will deliver a solid experience. Instead, people are learning to buy your product months later, when it has been proven that the game-wrecking bugs are gone and it is safe to step inside your world without modest issues. Or in Skyrim’s case, you can alter your play-style and hope to be tired of the game by the time the framerate becomes unbearable.

Shallow/Easy Games
When the hell did “casual gamer” equate to “borderline retarded”. Many mainstream games these days are aiming a little too low on the IQ spectrum in my honest opinion, and that’s not because I’m “teh hardcorez”. These things are played for different reasons: conquering, socializing, adapting, sense-feedback, and others, but that doesn’t mean you need to get a trophy for turning the damned game on and for the play to be as simple as flipping through a gallery on an iPad. RPGs should not be on-rails like Final Fantasy 13 and I shouldn’t be able to blitz through hardmode on the latest FPS in less than 6 hours. Demon Souls didn’t even have to have good physics, frame rate, or hit detection to be latched onto due to its extreme difficulty. We don’t want to be coddled. If it doesn’t have an indisputably good story or mind-blowing exploration, give me a freaking challenge. I’ve done this before.


Kearning, contractions, and 3 handled trophies have never looked better.

Digital Downloads

I will never purchase a PS Vita. Not only do I have a shaken belief in Sony’s ability to stay competitive but the thing is huge, sucks down batteries, and it’s expensive. On top of that, they’ve mostly done away with tangible games. Am I the only gamer that likes some kind of tactile purchase? “Wave of the future”, I know. But I don’t want a future where I purchase empty cases and all of my gaming data is stored online, subject to the whims of the server. I don’t feel like I’m BUYING anything, just the temporary rights to access a cloud storage-media, anyways. This concept is for some people, obviously, otherwise products like the Nook wouldn’t exist; but I want a modest shelving unit filled with a representation of each of my games. I want to put my hands on a case, look at the back, and get a warm feeling from the memory of playing it. I want to have complete and total control over where I install my game and who can borrow it. Plus, they’re selling the things at full cost and there will never be Used digital copies, only Code.

[2016 Edit FROM THE FUTURE: I’m a liar. Sony definitely dropped the ball on product support but I got a Vita when the Slim version proved to be smaller, battery economical, and went on sale. I imported a Japanese 64GB storage card and almost primarily use the thing for PS1, PS2, and PSP emulation on digital copies which can be convenient.]

Game Management Servers
Origin, Steam, and others drive me crazy and I’m not just talking about Steam’s lack of chat history. The concept of needing to be connected to the internet to play your games is as faulty now as much as it was in the early 2000’s when Half Life 2 threw me into multiple tantrums. Fight piracy any way you know how but the pirates will always win. With real-world money systems being introduced into Blizzard products, it makes natural sense that they combat thousands of dollars worth of potential extortion…. but I am still completely against these towering pillars of dictatorship. You’re KILLING independent Mike! I give in for select titles, but this system seems to alienate less people than I expected. The siren song of great deals and indie representation foreshadows the freedom and accessibility denied. And waiting a full day for my game to download is just icing. Great as game gifts, bad for game hoarders.


Ads and Marketing
It’s an unavoidable and influential facet of the free-market enterprise, but games with a corporate agenda are grievously unfun. This could be as simple as putting Pepsi cans in cinematics or as overt as Shaun White’s Snowboarding. The Netflix app being undeletable from my PS3 menus is just another example of the exclusivity of these different intercompany associations. It all may seem innocent because America is constantly under a streaming fire of ads every hour of every day (excluding sleeptime of course), but it has to end somewhere. Product placement could be kept at minimal levels -enough that it doesn’t distract from the game- and I would be okay. But when companies start slipping their unskippable splashscreens in before the start menu, or have fully brandished logos for several seconds on screen, I’m checking out. How bad could this problem be? There are actual companies dedicated to getting their client-brands into gaming! Furthermore, I’m not even the type to fall for advertising.

No LAN Support or Same-Room Multiplayer
This is one of those issues that seems to have crept up on us. I used to huddle around a 13 inch CRT television to play Goldeneye split four-screen, the same crowd that I would haul my PC over and play Starcraft via LAN with. Those days seem to be fading fast. Though games are becoming more and more socially inclined, the act of being in the same room and enjoying a title seems to be stifled and vanishing. I find it strange that anonymous gaming is even considered “social” by anyone’s standards, but that is another point entirely. Televisions are getting bigger and yet the option to enjoy an FPS and many other genres in the home are dwindling. My PS3 front ports end up being low-hassle chargers for my different wireless controls or the jack for the PS3 Eye, not for having a shared experience like I assumed they were originally intended for.

It’s almost not worth it to buy games upon first release anymore. Since much of the stuff I mentioned above: DLC, patches, and expansions occur so frequently and quickly nowadays, you can bet your bottom dollar that most big companies will invoke a second surge of sales through a special release. In all honesty, these re-releases tend to be pretty sweet with extra costumes, levels, and hard-coded patches that make the experience all the better. But this practice has to be under-cutting consumer confidence at some level. You basically get rewarded for waiting a few months after they initially wanted you to buy it, but they could alleviate much of this with cheaper and more inclusive DLC offers. What the hell do I know about marketing anyways, though? They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t prove to have net gains. Right?


This cover needs an article revealing "7 Tips to please your Batman."

With any luck, many of the issues listed here will simply prove to be short-term fluctuations in a rapidly changing market, one that seeks equilibrium amid all the factors. With indie developers gaining momentum, genres being redefined, gamer intelligence being less and less subverted, I’m truly excited about the direction the industry is going. We’ve thwarted attempts to restrict the artistic growth of games, glorified good titles on merit alone, and routinely see people just doing it RIGHT, whether in a console, full-purchase computer title, or even a popular flash game.

Should enough people feel like I do, that the Digital Downloads are taking over, that the Management Servers are intruding, and that the Sequel Machines are in overdrive, it’s still possible to curb the flow of this tidal wave though it might feel like standing in front of an approaching Tractor Trailer sometimes. Bad companies eventually get bad rapsheets and it is ultimately the gamers that decide what works in this market, believe it or not. What you put up with determines what they attempt, so we’ll all just have to see what pans out in the next decade of gaming. Hopefully fun, unique, and worthwhile games will rule the roost.

…. And if not, I still own all of my old favorites (in disc and cartridge form).

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